Inspiring Congo student faces final, harrowing test
An asylum seeker from the Republic of the Congo who arrived in Hong Kong penniless and unable to speak a word of English six years ago has won a university place in Australia.
Duvalld Ndilou, 21, who will study nursing after graduating from a scholarship programme at the English Schools Foundation's Renaissance College, is believed to be the first asylum seeker in Hong Kong to go on to tertiary education.
However, to get the visa he needs to take up his college place in Adelaide, he faces a harrowing return to the troubled West African nation he fled as a 15-year-old, unsure whether his family is alive or dead.
His departure will also rule out a return to Hong Kong, where he has faced the daily threat of deportation while his asylum claim under the UN Convention Against Torture remains stuck in the system.
Duvalld escaped through a window when a masked gang burst into his home and abducted his parents and sister as part of an apparent political feud.
A church pastor helped him flee to Hong Kong, where he has since had no news of his family, despite attempts to trace them.
After registering as an asylum seeker in 2005, Duvalld first went to a local school before being urged by a charity to apply for a new Youth Empowerment Scholarship (YES) for disadvantaged youngsters at Renaissance College.
'When I first went to school, my intention was just to understand English,' he said. 'I knew I had to learn this language otherwise I was going to suffer. Later, some friends said to me 'Why study? You can't go to university'. I didn't think it was possible either until I came to Renaissance College.'
Funded by teachers and donors including the Rotary Club of Hong Kong, Duvalld said going to university would transform his life.
'I am very happy about it. I just want to be able to live life like everyone else does,' he said.
'When I graduate I want to go back to the Congo and open my own clinic. I want to do something for the community.'
Duvalld said he was nervous at the prospect of returning to his home country, also known as Congo-Brazzaville, but is determined to find out what has happened to his family. 'I just hope they went into hiding and that I will see them again one day,' he said.
Duvalld is the first student on the Ma On Shan college's YES scheme and has been mentored by founding principal Peter Kenny, who will travel with Duvalld when he returns for his visa before starting early next year.
'Many asylum seekers go to local schools but drop out,' Kenny said. 'Duvalld has really stuck with it and shown a lot of courage and commitment. What he has achieved is a great credit to him and the people who worked around him.'
But his departure was Hong Kong's loss, Kenny argued.
'He will go to university and qualify and contribute back in a very meaningful way to his community. For me, that is a chance that Hong Kong has missed out on,' he said
'If he would go through some criteria and be granted permanent residency here, he would then be coming back and contributing to Hong Kong society. For the sake of a little investment by the government, there is a huge potential we miss out on.'
Tiffany Sturman, education co-ordinator of the asylum seeker support group Vision First, which helped Duvalld, described his case as unique and an inspiration for other young asylum seekers in Hong Kong.
'Many young people in this position are in limbo and it is hard for them to find the motivation to study when they are unsure what their next step is,' she said. 'Hopefully this will show them that something can happen for them.'
Renaissance College has set up a fund to help Duvalld through college in Australia over the next two years. Anyone who wants to contribute or find out more about Duvalld's case should contact vice-principal (secondary) Nick Cotton at email@example.com.